Tribute to an Old Friend: First Sony Walkman Sold Forty Years Ago Today

The Sony Walkman took the world by its ears as it was first sold in stores on July 1, 1979—sparking the era of personal portable music.

Photo by THE COLLAB. from Pexels

Anybody who has a smartphone today instantly has access to personal portable music. Simply connect your earphones to your device, and voila, you are transported into your very own world—with a fitting soundtrack playing in the background!

It wasn’t always this awesome during the days when the dominant technology was the portable, cassette-playing, transistor radio. Although you could bring the thing with you, it was still heavy, bulky, and had that familiar retro sound quality intended to be heard by everyone within three blocks.

Enter Masaru Ibuka—Sony co-founder and one of the most iconic corporate leaders of the 20th century. Burdened by the weight and size of his “portable” Sony cassette player, Ibuka came up with the idea of a truly portable cassette player intended for a much personal music listening experience.

An existing portable cassette player was then retrofitted by Sony engineers to accommodate the unusual request. Ibuka was so impressed with the prototype’s performance after personally using it on a plane, that he strongly persuaded Sony to manufacture it.

Original Sony Walkman TPS-L2 from 1979 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Walkman became a huge success for Sony, selling over 400 million units worldwide. The Walkman is now known as one of the most successful consumer products in history.

Sadly, what goes up must eventually come down. The last units of the Walkman were sold in 2010. The phenomenal rise of the MP3 player marked the end of the portable cassette player era.

This technological masterpiece has kept us company during our formative years—times when we were sad, lonely, bored, or when we just really wanted to enjoy our Nirvana (while headbanging in our room).

Truly, the Sony Walkman will forever hold a special place in the hearts and memories of at least two generations.

Written by 

John is a mechanical and environmental engineer who is fascinated with current and future tech. To this day, he still can't get over how amazing touchscreens and airplanes are.